Last November, as Barack Obama won the election, we recommended a list of "easy things" the new president could immediately do to cement his promises about being a pro-environment president. This is our second update on how he's doing.
The new president's greatest achievement clearly is the abrupt reversal of the Bush-era philosophy favoring those who devour our natural resources for short term gain. He also has taken major steps towards restoring integrity to our regulatory agencies, potency to our environmental laws, and respect internationally for our country's leadership.
Nonetheless, the administration has taken some actions—for example, the delisting of northern gray wolves—that are deeply disappointing. Some of the administration actions, notably with regard to mountaintop removal mining, fall short of being complete solutions. Likewise, there remain significant environmental challenges yet to be addressed.
Here is how the administration has addressed, so far, the environmental imperatives set forth by Earthjustice:
1) Reduce C02 emissions under the Clean Air Act
The EPA finally has released its findings that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are a threat to public health that should be regulated. "This pollution problem has a solution, one that will create millions of green jobs and end our country's dependence on foreign oil," EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said. The EPA also said emissions from motor vehicles contribute to global warming. Rules and possible congressional regulatory legislation are to follow. Jackson previously gave California the green light to set vehicle emissions standards.
Jackson's directives represent a 180-degree shift from the Bush EPA.
2) Set energy efficiency standards to decrease energy consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions
The Obama administration on February 2 urged the Department of Energy to finalize efficiency standards for home and commercial appliances, thus ending delays that have long plagued the program. Underscoring his commitment, he appointed Steven Chu, one of the nation's foremost energy efficiency apostles, to head DOE. In response to an Earthjustice lawsuit challenging Bush regulations, the new administration has moved to reverse the bad standards. See our energy efficiency page for more information.
3) Take a time out on oil and gas exploration in the Arctic
It's not exactly a time out, but Interior Sec. Ken Salazar has called for a review of the Bush administration's proposed 5-7 year Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas drilling plan. The announcement doesn't affect oil and gas projects Earthjustice is litigating, but the new administration did ask the court for a 60-day continuance in our litigation challenging the Chuckhi Sea lease sale. By May 26, the administration will announce its position.
4) Reverse Bush proposals that weaken the Endangered Species Act
The departments of Interior and Commerce announced they would reverse the Bush rules and restore a key provision of the ESA making decisions subject to consultation with other federal agencies. But, Interior Sec. Ken Salazar also announced that the administration will keep intact the Bush rule on polar bears—meaning they won't be protected from global warming impacts, using the ESA. This is one of the major environmental disappointments to come out of the Obama White House.
5) Reinstate Roadless Area Conservation Rule
We still await word from the Obama administration on how it plans to deal with this rule, adopted in 2001 to protect 58 million acres of our wildest remaining national forest lands. The rule is tied up in various courts and we've called on the new administration to vigorously defend it. We also want the administration to find a way to reinstate roadless protections for the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.
6) Set a path towards a clean energy future
Earthjustice and the president are in agreement that energy is the highest priority. The stimulus package is a powerful step towards creating millions of green jobs while setting the country on a course away from highly polluting, non-sustainable fossil fuel energy sources. To keep an eye on: the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill now making its way through Congress.
In addition to this list, the Obama administration has taken these actions on other Earthjustice issues:
- Proposed stringent limits on emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from cement kilns. We continue to push for similar controls on power plants.
- Vacated the Bush-era change in the stream buffer rule affecting mountaintop removal coal mining. But, this is far from accomplishing the promise made by Obama to end mountaintop removal mining. We are carefully monitoring the administration's stance.
- Upheld the de-listing of northern gray wolves, putting them in peril of being hunted in various states. Earthjustice is continuing to press the issue as a violation of the Endangered Species Act.
- Obama signed a major wilderness protection bill that included two areas kept from development by Earthjustice action.
- EPA proposed creation of an emissions control area around our coastline that would limit pollution emissions from ships. However, the proposal didn't include Alaska's Arctic coastline—which Earthjustice is pushing.
- Dept. of Interior canceled an oil and gas exploration lease sale of some 100,000 acres in Utah. Earthjustice is hopeful that the administration will take a critical look at leasing already approved for the Roan Plateau in Colorado.
We still are waiting to see what the Obama administration will do to restore and enhance protections of America's rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands, which were greatly diminished during the Bush/Cheney years.